ELIZABETH SANTELMANN | GUEST It’s jarring to come off the worship of Advent season and land in January. A week after Christmas, we turn off the carols and snap on the workout track. We rush as quickly as possible toward productivity. We dream that our lofty goals will produce the perfect version of ourselves. Frantically, we scrawl habits that will make us as successful as possible in the shortest amount of time. If only we could turn over a new leaf, we would become as flawless as is humanly achievable! We attempt to shove down our own human frailties to claw our way to the pedestal of who we can become. Oh, but January is hard. Our resolutions are interrupted by sick babies in the flu season. Snow days force us into the stillness of hibernation. We attempt to refocus our sights on the sweaty-faced trainers screaming “don’t give up on yourself now!” on the screens of our tv. The package of kale goes bad in the refrigerator. As one grey January day dissolves into the next, the willpower we mustered in our hearts begins to melt. Don’t Forget Advent What if we allowed the truths we learned in December to transform our hearts in January?
There are times when I am driving my car, running simple errands or on my way to work, when I am struck by the landscape around me. The lush green hills set against the pure blue sky with puffs of clouds so thick, I wonder if I could reach out and grab one. Everything pressing on my mind vanishes and I feel a sense of wonder and amazement. Then I ask myself "Has that been there all long? How could I have missed something so amazing?” I’m especially surprised when it’s a route I often take. This is true when it comes to reading God’s Word. It's incredible what God can open our eyes to see in His Word at different times, especially in places that have become familiar. That’s the beauty of Scripture: Whether it be your first time reading it or the 20th time, you can still stumble across sweet treasures. Just like on my drives, the Lord is constantly setting our gaze on new things for us to see. A New Treasure in John 13 A recent treasure for me has been reading Peter's denial found in John 13:36-38. This story comes on the heels of Jesus serving the disciples by washing their feet, the same occasion where He announced to them that someone would shortly deny Him and informed them of His upcoming departure. When Peter heard that Jesus would soon leave them, he said, "Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." His response makes sense because they had experienced so much together and grown in their relationship. Jesus’ question in return carried a tone somewhat like “Really?” He said "Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”...
These past few years have been hard on our family. I see the Lord at work, and while this is an anchor of hope, I’d be lying if I said this head knowledge always translates to my heart. I struggle to believe He’s near while everything in me feels abandoned. We are a family of deep intense feelers, and we all process our feelings in different ways. My husband and I feel remarkably underqualified in communicating our own feelings in healthy ways, while at the same time trying to figure out how to teach our children to do the same. In moments of desperation, I ask God why so much has to exhaust us relationally, and why He allows marriage and parenting—even with all of the joys—to be so painful. Sometimes I even wonder if it’s worth it to keep my heart in the fight. A Necessary Cutting A few years ago, my father-in-law, a retired forester, cut our azalea bushes down almost to the main stem. It saddened me to agree to it because they were so green and full. Or at least I thought they were. Cutting them seemed counterintuitive, but I learned soon enough that outside appearances don’t always reveal what’s truly below the surface. Even though I was afraid cutting them back would do irreparable damage, I agreed, trusting his expertise. When he was finished, I saw the true state of the health of our bushes. What was left was nothing but dry, brittle sticks. I wondered, “What if we’ve cut away all the beauty and all we’ll ever have now is dead twigs? At least there were flowers on the outside!”He then showed me the evidence of life inside the branches and explained that since all the foliage on the outside had been cut away, the bush can now get the light it needs to grow.
I first discovered the reformed faith in my mid-twenties. I went on a journey of discovery, learning from pastors and friends over coffee and dinner. I read and researched with the time I had, and I gained a strong foundation in theology through the discipleship of my local church. When I did have kids, I taught part time at a local community college. My classes were online, and I had great flexibility around them. When the kids were asleep or watching Thomas the Train, I could read, research and write. For years, I was able to slowly but surely add to my theological foundation. I had margin in my life to do so, and I worked to keep that margin, knowing that I would be better at everything else I did if I was growing daily in my understanding of the deep things of the Word of God. Fast forward a few years. My boys are now 12 and 14. Though they don't need me in the same way they did as toddlers, they still need me as an engaged parent as much as ever. But life circumstances have also funneled me down to taking a full-time teaching job. I love my job, but it, along with parenting my children and participating in our presbytery's new church plant, has officially taken all the flexibility and margin out of my life. I no longer have time or mental energy to research the types of commentaries or online theological discussions I used to find intriguing and informative. Yet, my need to live in light of the deep truths of the Word of God is as strong as ever.